Jon Lukacher | Staff Writer
Last Wednesday, Rutgers-Camden professor and author read from his new book, and spoke on the fault of white people in the struggles of African-Americans. Ewuare X. Osayande, a black activist, read poems from his book Whose America? in the Multi-purpose room (MPR). The reading was part of a series of events commemorating Black History Month held at Rutgers-Camden.
“It cracks me up when I hear white people say, ‘you know I ain’t got nothing to do with this (African-American struggles), nothing to do with me,’” Osayande explained. “You don’t have any slaves in your backyard. I get that. But, that should not, if you’re about justice, that should not cause you to deny the way in which your reality has been formed by two-hundred, three- hundred years of oppression, exploitation.”
Osayande’s fiery speech grew in strength into the reading’s Question & Answer portion.
David Leodore took umbrage with a comment Osayande made during his reading. Leodore, one of a handful of white people in the African-American dominated audience, did not appreciate Osayande’s claim that white immigrants did not pull themselves up out of poverty and make decent lives.
Leodore cited his family.
“I’m just curious to hear your opinion about the mass immigrations in the 1930s of the Italians and Eastern Europeans, who came over with nothing,” Leodore said. “Most of them were young, separated from their families. They made their way to America and here we are generations later. They obviously didn’t have any slaves. They didn’t ride the backs of anybody.”
To which Osayande retorted, “To say that they (white people) did not ride the backs of anybody is not correct. One of the first things that European immigrants would learn coming off the boats was the word n*****.”
Osayande continued for several minutes, breaking down Leodore’s argument. Osayande addressed Leodore and asked him to deal with reality, bringing a personal side to his argument.
“My grand-mamma struggled, cleaning white people’s kitchens,” Osayande said. “Don’t talk to me. There’s a reckoning. I told you some people I work with are white folks who get this. I don’t hate white people.”
Rutgers-Camden hosts a series of events for Black History Month, as they did last year. The author James Johnson, a Rutgers-Camden History professor, discussed “Black New Jersey in the Civil War” on February 6. An event held on February 16th featured filmmaker Aishah Shahida Simmons, who showed “No! The Rape Documentary.” Simmons is an award-wining independent filmmaker.
Before the Q & A, Osayande read from his book Whose America?, which is a series of poems on national and international topics, like Hurricane Katrina. The book reflects his personal concerns and beliefs on the world. The audience of about 75 saw him read poetry, taking breaks to address the issues troubling him.
One of the poems read by Osayande was “Survivor,” which describes a first-hand account into the mind of Osayande. He interprets the events in America spanning five centuries from Christopher Columbus to the 1970’s.
Osayande, who grew up in Westville, NJ, travels coast to coast throughout the United States giving lectures. He has lectured at Harvard University, and he also has several books to his name, including many essays and two speeches.
At Rutgers-Camden, he expressed how the early days of the United States shaped the economic structure of today.
Osayande sees the United States as a system destined to keep wealthy individuals wealthy. He said it dates back to the countries beginning and can be found in its laws. Osayande dipped into politics, the music industry, and the white experience. He does not approve of the current state of hip hop.
The United States was destined to reflect a caste system, something created by people who were wealthy, according to Osayande. The laws put in place in the very beginning were meant to keep wealth in the hands of those already wealthy.
Many in attendance enjoyed the reading, like Tyra Blanding, a Sociology major. Blanding, in fact, skipped work to attend. She has taken Osayande’s Malcom X course and Racism workshop, both of which she found enlightening.
She admits Osayande conveys a strong message, saying, “At first, I can see where somebody can get like ‘oh my God he’s attacking,’ but I purchased his books and stuff too, which helped me understand,” Blanding said. “I’ve been on his website… He can come on a little strong, but the amount of information that he gives is a lot to take in.”
Chantelle Davis, a psychology major, takes Dr. Wayne Glasker’s African-American History II course. Dr. Glasker was present at the event. Davis enjoyed the lecture and some of Osayande’s poems, and believes that some of black people’s problems can be attributed to white people. She said some black people believe that all white people are racists and will hold them accountable for slavery.
Black History Month began as “Negro History Week” in 1926. Harvard graduate Dr. Carter G. Woodson started the week, which coincided with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Fifty years later, the week to commemorate and recognize the accomplishment of African-Americans changed, becoming the entire month of February.
While progress has occurred, Osayande said that there’s more work to be done. The waiting is hard.
“Some of us can’t be patient,” Osayande said. “Some of us are living a reality as a result of a system that is oppressive.”